Tuesday 28 April 2009

Love is...

‘I always thought I’d be the one who died first,’ a widower said to me last week (he’d been seriously ill several times in the years before his wife died) ‘but now I’m glad I didn’t because I wouldn’t have liked her to have been as sad as I am’.

The pictures are both in St Nicolas’ churchyard. First, at the southern end, where the variety of spring flowers which people have enjoyed since almost the beginning of the year are just beginning to be overtaken by the dandelion and over growth which will look so untidy while we leave the wildflowers to set seed before cutting back at the end of May. Secondly, at the northern end, where a second burial took place last week in the new area for cremated remains which the widower of the first person buried has been mowing repeatedly for us to help establish a lawn.

Sunday 26 April 2009

Redundant apprentices

If an Apprenticeship is your chosen route for post-16 education and you are made redundant, where does that leave your qualifications and preparations for life and work? It isn’t a question which had occurred to me until this week when I attended a Government briefing on its 14-19 reforms at the Grimsby Institute of FE and HE where I’m a Governor.

It was the question I asked the briefers when they told us both that those who are not in work at the end of Apprenticeships do not gain the relevant qualifications and that the Government offered six months support where there is redundancy. One of the tutors chipped in after me to say that she had some students who are in exactly this position this week and she doesn’t have any funding to continue to provide the training element attached to their work. The Government plan is that by 2020 1 in 5 young people will be apprentices, so getting this right really matters.

The briefers promised an e-mail answer from the Government Department ‘within a fortnight’; I’ll try to wait with some hope for this, although when I was the independent Chair of the Local Authority’s 14-19 Strategy Group we wrote to the Government about some apparent contradictions in its policy mentioning an aspect of the Academy programme as one example and the reply gave no evidence of having read our question but instead told us what was good about the Academy programme.

Meanwhile, here is the whole of the magnificent south door at Middle Rasen (a detail of which I posted earlier in the week following our local Jenkins bagging trip on Saturday). Jenkins calls it ‘the most monumental Norman doorway in Lincolnshire, though not as the guide states "in the country"’ (but that isn’t actually quite what the guide book claims - so we couldn’t decide whether he subtlety misquotes the guide or whether its text had been amended to take account of his gentle stricture).

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Rise in independent churches

There was competition between two independent congregations to buy the redundant St Peter’s Catholic Church building on the Willows estate in this parish. The congregation which is buying the building used to worship on a Sunday by renting space in a school a couple of miles away. The congregation which isn’t has worshipped in our redundant Bishop Edward King Church and will continue to worship in a building the Salvation Army does not now use on a Sunday morning, both of which are on the estate. As it happens I know that a third independent congregation, which also continues to meet in a school on Sunday, was a bidder for the redundant Weelsby Road Methodist Church elsewhere in town which was eventually bought by a Moslem group.

I mentioned some of this last night at the Pastoral Committee for the northern slice of the diocese when I learnt there that the redundant church on the Westcliff estate in Scunthorpe at which I used to work is being sold to the Elim Pentecostal Church. The fellow Rural Dean for that area suggested that this may all be part of a pattern of reshaping Christian presence in our area: well established denominations divesting themselves of surplus buildings and independent evangelical groups and others taking some of them up (although this isn’t happening where population is sparse or where buildings have major maintenance liabilities, so many mediaeval churches in tiny villages and some substantial Victorian and twentieth century churches and chapels will continue to stand empty, be demolished, or be converted into secular use).

If so, it is a further variation on an endlessly shifting denominational pattern. I happened to be looking at a guide to the near by town of Barton last week which told a typical story from an earlier period: ‘the rise of the Free Churches meant that, by the mid-nineteenth century, Anglican churchgoers here were vastly outnumbered by Methodists and other Nonconformists’ although that time round a little while later both large Parish Churches ‘were restored and refurnished’.

The magnificent monument is in the redundant church at Buslingthorpe, near Market Rasen, which we visited on Saturday and which is one of several not too far away from each other in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

Sunday 19 April 2009

New Life

Having had most of nine and a half of the last fifteen days off, and having lived through Holy Week and Easter Week again during that time, you would have thought that I’d pick things up today refreshed and regrounded. The picture of the new born Coot and his parents (which we spotted on Thursday in a tucked away spot which is right at the centre of the parish) ought to represent all this.

But the cumulative effect of looking again at all the things I put aside as Holy Week was about to begin and all the things which have accumulated in the fortnight since then (no single one of which would have a chance of outweighing the effects of relaxation and reinspiration) do seem just a little too dispiriting and dominating than they should on what ought to be a joyful Second Sunday of Easter with all the potential of a new Term beginning tomorrow.

I wish there were not quite the number of things in both deanery and parish which I promised myself (and, in many cases, other people) ‘I’ll do when space opens up after Easter’, and just one of the new things on my desk is a letter from the church’s architect who has now been to look at the south aisle roof at St Nicolas’ and recommends substantial work there. I’ll make a list, which always proves the most tempting displacement activity when there seems too much to do.

First, to worship. Last night we went to Doubt with Meryl Streep’s award nominated performance as a 1960s nun and school Principal who moves against her parish priest certain but unable to prove that he is grooming an altar boy for abuse, as good a preparation as any for being subtle about today’s scriptures (‘we declare to you what we have looked at and touched’ and ‘unless I see and touch I will not believe’), and indeed then for tackling what is on the list.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Concealing cracks

The Angel is looking in and the Green Man is looking out of the northernmost window on the east front of Fountains Abbey; together they are decorating or providing a tie across what would otherwise be visible as a fractured joint at the top of the window.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Sunday 12 April 2009

Immeasurable surprise

I wouldn’t be too hard on the fearful, slow, hesitant, doubting disciples. It is hardly as if they could have expected this: ‘they could not grasp it if they knew what soon will wake’.

The friend with whom we stayed on the side of Clee Hill near Ludlow over the Palm Sunday weekend has the most glorious and covetable view westwards, and also these sheep outside her window. She asked whether there was a short passage I might suggest she use at an Easter service in an Old People’s Home. The lambs led me straight back to Philip Larkin’s First Sight. Neither author nor poem is explicitly Christian, but it always seems to do the trick for me. And it doesn’t do it with some ‘isn’t Spring wonderful and resurrection-like’ pap, but with phrases like ‘immeasurable surprise’ and ‘they could not grasp it if they knew’.

‘Lambs that learn to walk in snow... all they find... is a wretched width of cold. As they wait beside the ewe... hidden round them waiting too’ is something they have no frame of reference to enable them to suspect.

I’m always puzzled by some plodding sorts of evangelical who think the empty tomb simply shows that Jesus got up and walked again. I’m equally puzzled by some sorts of liberal who aren’t bothered to begin plodding because they think other aspects of the story show it instead to be merely a profound spiritual experience of the disciples. Why should we think that our existing frames of reference (whether physical or spiritual) are going to help us cope with this new thing?

Friday 10 April 2009

The music of Christ's curse

Two of the things particularly informing this Good Friday for me are the Pieta on the Font at Bag Enderby (which the first post on this blog mentioned Simon Jenkins saying was 'worth crossing Lincolnshire to see') and a passage from Simone Weil's Waiting for God (which identifies the 'music of the spheres' within the tension set up by the forsaking of God by God).

Christ being made a curse for us. It was not only the body of Christ, hanging on the wood, that was accursed; it was his whole soul also. In the same way every innocent being in his malheur [Weil uses this word to describe the suffering which enslaves and is soul destroying] feels himself accursed... Even the grace of God itself cannot cure irremediably wounded nature here below. The glorified body of Christ bore the marks of the nails and spear. One can only accept the existence of malheur by considering it at a distance. God created through love and for love. God did not create anything except love itself, and the means to love. He created love in all its forms. He created beings capable of love from all possible distances. Because no other could do it, he himself went to the greatest possible distance, the infinite distance. This infinite distance between God and God, this supreme tearing apart, this agony beyond all others, this marvel of love, is the crucifixion. Nothing can be further from God than that which has been made accursed. This tearing apart, over which supreme love places the bond of supreme union, echoes perpetually across the universe in the midst of the silence, like two notes, separate yet melting into one, like pure and heart-rending harmony. This is the Word of God. The whole creation is nothing but its vibration.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Saturday 4 April 2009

Sagas continue

The five Community Pay Back options up for the public vote in North East Lincolnshire are all public filthy areas which need to be cleared up. So my idea (blogged on 31st March) ‘that a quiet but well orchestrated local church initiative could maximise the votes cast for constructive projects in which offenders can take pride and learn skills rather than for those which are menial or which put the offenders on display’ looks as if it had been anticipated and very effectively side stepped.

The on-line voting system doesn’t include a ‘none of the above’ option, but the Probation Service phone number (01472 246405) simply links to an answering machine so I was able to leave my ‘vote’ for an alternative constructive option there. I have no idea whether or not this will count as a ‘spoilt paper’, but the line is open until 24th April so if I get space over Easter it might still make sense to canvass around who else might be encouraged to leave constructive suggestions there.

Comments about the vote on the local paper’s website should bring real pride to those who have driven through this policy. They include ‘Please tell the scumbags doing the cleaning to leave their wallets / ipods / mobile phones at home as they may get mugged’, ‘Now there is an idea, away days for prisoners, work parties linked together by some means sent off to different black spots from the jails, uniforms with stripes on would be very appropriate’, ‘this scheme should be extended to long term benefit claimers - if you want your dole money this week, be here at this time and earn it’ and ‘Send them up to my posh estate, not to clean up but just so we can poke them with sticks and throw things at them’.

Actually (to link the two topics about which recently I’ve blogged most) the people who should be most proud are the BNP. Just as the Green Party’s greatest success wasn’t electoral breakthrough but was getting main stream parties to see the electoral advantage of adopting environmental concerns, it is possible that the BNP’s greatest success so far is to get a Labour Government to see the electoral advantage of adopting and implementing vindictive law and order policies.

Meanwhile, the replacement gates at the entrance to the churchyard at St Michael’s were finally delivered and fixed in place on Thursday, the local authority’s Trees and Woodlands Officer and I heard, searched for and briefly glimpsed a woodpecker in St Nicolas’ churchyard on Friday morning, and the member of the congregation I visited on Friday afternoon had brought home the washing of the elderly patient she did not know but who happened to be in the hospital bed next to her husband.

Thursday 2 April 2009


A simple way to prevent a BNP MEP being elected by accident in June would be to maximise the turn out of those who wish to vote for mainstream parties. This is important because if the same low level of support for the BNP candidate in last week’s by-election in this Ward was reproduced across the whole Yorkshire and Humber region this would actually be about enough first preference votes for proportional representation to deliver an MEP.

I hadn’t meant to return to this topic so often or so soon, but three different things have prompted me to do so, beginning with the West Yorkshire churches putting out resource material which makes just this point.

So I picked this up when recording a podcast for the diocese of Lincoln on Tuesday. The diocese has just started to put a new podcast on its website each week and is making this available in other ways. The first of the weekly series is a slightly pedestrian effort by the priest who it was announced yesterday is to be the new Archdeacon of Lincoln. It is up now, and the Bishop of Lincoln’s Easter reflections will follow next week. And, for reasons best known to the diocesan communications team, I was asked to do the third one, which will go up straight after Easter. I used the material about Martin Niemoeller and the BNP which I blogged on 16th March. I linked it to the initiative of the West Yorkshire churches.

This all coincides with the BNP launching a poster campaign casting itself as the champion of real Christian values and as much a victim of persecution by the church as Jesus was of the religious authorities of his day. ‘What would Jesus do?’ they ask. ‘Voted for the BNP,’ they opine, no doubt just as he would have called for proper punishment of the women caught in adultery and the deportation of the Good Samaritan.

I suspect they are making a major tactical error in seeking to increase their Christian vote in this way. Faced with this level of public misrepresentation lots of Christian leaders who might have fought shy of following up the West Yorkshire lead (and, like me at the time of our Council by-election, make no public statement) will feel impelled to do something.

Meanwhile, having included in the last two posts pictures taken from beside the road opposite St Nicolas' which show how trees limit the view from the north east
and from the east, the picture this time completes the set from the south east. I'm meeting the local authority's Trees and Woodlands Officer there tomorrow to see what might be done, but he wouldn't want us to touch the most significant trees and we don't ahve any spare money to do work on the others.